Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
Public relations firms are all over me right now, asking me to push journalists to encourage travelers in their audiences to buy insurance for holiday travel that might be interrupted by COVID-19. When the pandemic broke out in 2020, travel insurance mostly didn’t do squat to help travelers. Airlines and hotels had to get generous to accommodate changing plans.
But now, travel insurance largely treats COVID-19 like other medical conditions. Keep in mind that fear is not ususally a reimbursable claim,. Carol Mueller, a vice president at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, told The New York Times:
“If you become ill before your trip, you’ll need a doctor’s note confirming your illness and that you are unable to travel in order to be eligible for benefits. The benefits are the same regardless of whether you contract Omicron, another variant of Covid or any illness for that matter.”
Most policies do not cover you if your foreign destination closes its borders to visitors, as Israel did recently. With a few exceptions, that also goes for a government-issued travel warning to a destination, which is generally not a covered reason to make a claim.
“What travel insurance can do is cover additional hotel stays if you are able to self-quarantine and additional airfare when you’re able to come home,” said Megan Moncrief, the chief marketing officer for Squaremouth, a travel insurance sales site. She added that most policies will extend to seven days past your originally scheduled return date, effectively covering only about seven days in case of quarantine.
Travel delay coverage. This benefit can cover the cost of your accommodations and meals during quarantine if you have contracted the virus. If you are forced to stay beyond your return date due to a positive test, this coverage can be extended for up to seven days.
“Policies with this benefit provide a range of total coverage between $100 and $2,000 per person, with a daily limit that ranges from $50 to $300,” Steven Benna, a spokesperson for Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison site says.
Trip interruption coverage. This coverage will reimburse you for missed portions of your trip if you’re forced into quarantine due to a positive Covid test. It can cover 100% to 200% of your prepaid and non-refundable trip costs, depending on the policy, says Benna.
For example, Trawick International’s Safe Travels Voyager Plan covers expenses if you’re forced to quarantine domestically or abroad due to a positive Covid test.
You can buy a more expensive insurance policy called a cancel for any reason policy, which will return between half and three-quarters of your expenses. Generally, people buy these at the same time that they buy tickets or make reservations.
New York City’s vaccine mandate
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did what no other city in the United States has dared try: mandated vaccinations for all private employers in the city. That will be on top of the federal mandates for federal workers, health care employees and businesses with more than 100 employees. New York City already requires vaccines for city workers and residents have to prove their vaccination status to work in indoor dining spots, entertainment businesses and gyms. By some estimates, around 90% of New Yorkers have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.
Notably, the next mayor, Eric Adams, who takes office in a month, has not committed to keeping the mandate in place.
How will free at-home COVID-19 testing work?
It may be a month before we know for certain how President Joe Biden’s big idea of “free” at-home COVID-19 testing will work. The president told the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury to issue guidance by Jan. 15 telling insurance companies to cover the cost of at-home quick tests, which generally retail for about $12 each. But Time reports families may still have to front the cost of the tests, submit receipts and wait for reimbursement:
The White House has suggested that under the new rules, individuals may be required to submit their receipts for reimbursement. If that’s the case, Americans will still have to front money for the tests — which could add up quickly for many families, especially if people want to frequently take at-home tests.
“It does require the individual to jump through some hoops. So, they have to hold on to their receipts for the tests. They have to turn those in and follow whatever reimbursement process is required by the insurer. And they have to be able to afford to front the money. They have to be able to afford to wait for the reimbursement,” Lindsey Dawson, an associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation says. And all of that is only possible if people actually know they can be getting reimbursed for the tests.
The reimbursements will probably not cover tests that are required by employers, for example when a worker refuses vaccination and has to provide negative test results to be allowed into the workplace.
Omicron ‘patient zero’ goes public to urge vaccinations
Peter McGinn of Minneapolis works for a health care company and is pro-vaccine and pro-booster. He was among the first people in the United States to be diagnosed with the new omicron variant of the virus after he traveled to New York City to attend Anime NYC 2021. Once his name became public, McGinn used the unwanted publicity to send a message. The Star-Tribune reports:
“A lot of it was just like, ‘See, vaccines don’t work.’ But in my opinion, they absolutely work because they reduce the amount of people who are in the hospital,” he said, noting many people in the hospitals are unvaccinated. “You might still get COVID, but it reduces the symptoms based off my experience.”
McGinn said 15 of the 30 people he socialized with during the convention — which drew as many as 50,000 people — also tested positive for COVID-19. All of his friends were fully vaccinated, he said.
Half of the people in Houston who died of COVID also had diabetes
The Houston Health Department reports, “More than half of Houstonians who died of COVID-19 had diabetes. Of the city’s 3,646 COVID-19 deaths as of November 1, 2021, 51.9 percent had diabetes.” The county health department says about 13.5% of Houstonians have diabetes, which is just above the national average.
The American Diabetes Association says there is not enough data to show whether people with diabetes are more likely to get COVID-19 but the data is clear that diabetic patients may suffer worse illnesses.
Is it time to redefine ‘fully vaccinated?’
By springtime, you may need to get another booster to protect yourself against COVID-19 variants. Some experts are wondering if it is time to rethink what we mean by “fully vaccinated” to acknowledge this reality. Kaiser Health points out that the definition could have real-life implications:
“In my view, if you were vaccinated more than six months ago, you’re not fully vaccinated,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Nov. 18 during a press briefing. He was encouraging everyone to get boosted at that time, even before the federal government authorized extra shots for everyone.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had a similar response in mid-November, saying she defined “fully vaccinated” as receiving three shots of the mRNA type. She also opened up booster eligibility to all of her state residents before the CDC and Food and Drug Administration did.
What do the varying views on the evolving science mean for vaccine requirements imposed on travelers, or by schools or workplaces? And what about businesses that have required patrons to provide proof of vaccination?
Physician assistants say it’s time to change their title
We have come to appreciate the value of health care workers, especially during the pandemic. Physician assistants, or PAs as they are sometimes called, commonly examine patients, order medicines and perform tests. But physicians oppose allowing PAs to change their title to physician associates, because, they say, it will confuse patients. At least 280 bills are flying around state legislatures right now to change what PAs — as well as other groups like dental hygienists, optometrists and pharmacists — can provide to patients.
People naming their dogs Fauci and Pfizer
Rover, the pet-sitting service company, issues a survey every year to rank the top dog names. The survey is more a curiosity than bona fide accurate since it is based on a database of a million Rover customers.
The most popular names are about what you would expect (Bella, Max, Charlie, Daisey, Zoe) but people are also adopting COVID-19 and Olympics-related names this year. Here are some of the rankings from Rover, but keep in mind that an increase in percentages is not the same as an increase in real numbers.
I suspect there are very few dogs named Fauci, so an increase year-to-year would hike the percentage at a greater rate than the same number of new registrations would increase the percentages of dogs named Max, for instance.
Rover also lets you search major metros for local trends.
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